Could Twitter-Savvy Teens Help Government Tackle Social Media Screening?

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“As we're doing a background investigation, how could you not go look at their Facebook page?" said Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

A systematic effort to analyze the Facebook and Twitter accounts of people undergoing background investigations to handle sensitive government information is still mostly stuck in the planning phases.

Maybe it’s time to haul in a few social media-savvy teens.

That’s what House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, suggested last week during a hearing on the security clearance process, after officials said they were still working on hammering out a policy.

“As we're doing a background investigation, how could you not go look at their Facebook page or their Twitter posts or their Instagram or Snapchat or any of the other ones?” Chaffetz said. “We don't do that? How moronic are we? I mean, come on. My 14-year-old could figure this out.”

A few pilot projects at the Defense Department are already underway to analyze social media as part of the background investigation process. But officials are still evaluating the effort.

“In looking at social media, we want to make sure that we are looking at it in a way that is effective, that brings insight to the process,” testified acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert. OPM performs background investigations on behalf of other agencies for most federal personnel.

The 2016 omnibus spending bill called on the federal government to institute an “enhanced” program for vetting clearance seekers that includes combing through social media accounts, among a number of other data sources.

Meanwhile, the intelligence community is leading an effort to establish “continuous evaluation” of clearance holders, which would pull in automated record checks, including social media. Currently, federal employees and contractors who hold clearances are only reinvestigated every five years or 10 years.

Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, told lawmakers coming up with a social media policy is tricky because it involves many different agencies and also touches on privacy concerns. Evanina said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had signed off on a new policy currently sitting at the Office of Management “for coordination.”

Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott said he wasn’t sure of the status of the policy. “But I'll find out and get back to you,” he told Chaffetz.

“This is the cluster that is the federal government,” Chaffetz replied. “This should be such a simple question.” He added: “Go hire a bunch of teenagers, they'd do it better than we're doing it. They know how to do this stuff. But we don't as a government.”

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